Archive for the ‘Laos’ Category

Goodbye to Saelao

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Laos
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As usual, our time at the project went way too quick. Though we’re really happy to have been able to finish our electrical project (it works, yay!), it was sad to leave. The two weeks we’ve spent at Saelao have flown by, and now we have a few days left to explore Laos and Bangkok before we take the flight back to Amsterdam. Luckily our bags are a lot lighter now, after donating books, tools, shoes and clothes to the project.

We hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures, until next time!

Dwarf building inspection

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Laos
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After another long day we’re almost finished! With some help from the dwarf building inspection, as we’ve started to call the little boys that seem find our work very interesting, we’ve managed to get all of the wiring, lights and sockets into place. One more day to check all the wiring and connections once it is ‘live’, and then help put up the new poles for the wiring that got pulled down. We won’t be around to help string up the new cable, though, but that is not a complicated job, so the villagers can do that themselves.

We’re super happy to have gotten our project finished, now it’s just fingers crossed till after the testing!

Other news, an Italian chef has just arrived at the project, to give the restaurant a make over. It’s hilarious to watch this sweet mama, as she has completely taken over. The boys are getting serving lessons, the menu is being updated and last night she taught our cook how to make pasta pesto with local ingredients, amazing! We wish we would be able to witness the fruits of her labour, but alas, it’s getting time for us to be moving on.

Electrician needed at Saelao

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Laos
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We’re almost finished with our electricity project! After another hot and dusty day in the attic of the new kitchen we’ve made quite some progress. We’re really set to finish this before we leave, as you never know how long it will be before another electrically equipped volunteer joins the Saelao project. We might be lucky though, as a French bloke on his way to the lagoon wandered in to see what we were doing, and he turned out to be a fully schooled electrician. Not only did he approve of what we had done so far, which is always good to hear, be also said he would try to see if he could change his travel schedule to come and do the wiring in the community center.

Ever had a pizza without cheese? Well, it certainly is the only option in Laos, as there is hardly any cheese here. But as we learned, that is no reason for a pizza not to be delicious. Especially if the pizzas are wood fire cooked in a mud oven, and you’re sitting around a campfire while enjoying them. It’s become a favorite way for us to spend our evenings.

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Because the schools are having exams at the moment most of the English classes have been cancelled so the kids can focus on studying for them, but as the older boys keep coming each night we’ve kept  their classes going. They’re making steady progress through some the books we’ve brought them, so thanks again for the book donations!

Stampede

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Laos
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Instead of suffering our cold showers we’ve finally set out to discover the Blue Lagoon. It’s a pond filled with water coming directly out of the mountains, and due to the amount of chalk in the water the lagoon turns a beautiful color blue, though the water stays clear enough to still be able to see the fish. It makes for a lovely swim after a day of working in the hot weather as the middle of the lagoon is almost 2 meters deep.

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We’ve told you about our wandering buffalo before. They seem to really enjoy their visits with us, despite our buffalo herding efforts. The other day our dwarf crew decided to help out in the herding, by riding their bicycles after them while screeching in Lao and ringing their bells. Today the boys changed tactics and decided to chase them on foot. Though they did manage to chase the buffalo away from the community centre and garden, they had so much fun chasing them that they seemed to have forgotten the point was to herd the buffalo off of the property. Instead it turned into a ‘wild buffalo hunt’ which ended in a full on stampede after the buffalo were cornered between the fence, the pig pen and a group of hysterical Lao boys. The buffalo came crashing through the fence, after which they escaped from the dwarf crew by thrashing through the pond and running off.

When we came here we had a grand total of five volenteers at the project, by this afternoon we had expanded to 13 1/2. Thirteen volunteers and an extra 3 year old, who’s getting along quite well with our residential toddlers and who enjoys helping her parents with the mud building. It was a bit crowded in the camp, but as two of the volunteers have left this afternoon we’re back to 11 1/2 volunteers, which is a bit more comfortable.

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As the new kitchen get’s quite hot during the day, and we really want to finish the electricity project before we leave, we decided to work some more after our swim. We dragged out all our equipement to the restaurant and started preparing lightswitches and sockets in te sun. We didn’t get very far as Jasper was soon dragged off to be the local hero after a tuktuk laden with bicycles on the roof managed to take down the main power cables running atop of the bridge towards our camp, leaving everybody after the bridge without electricity. Luckily these cables can be switched off pretty nearby -about 800m away- so we actually got to (temporarily)  fix them. They will have to be replaced, though, because the isolating rubber around them got ripped apart. As the break is right on a wooden bridge, the ‘safety’ solution was to rip the deck out of the bridge and use that to block the access ramps, forcing drivers to ford the creek next to the bridge. The rest of us spent the time building a campfire, while we waited for the power to come back on.

The wedding

Posted: January 21, 2012 in Laos
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Last Sunday we went to the wedding we’d been invited to. Not that  we would not have been welcome if we had not been invited: just walking by will get you dragged in and refusing to party is not an option. From the moment we arrived, there was a torrent of booze headed our way. Apparently, eating, drinking and dancing is the main part of the whole wedding. The tables are filled with food, beer and ice. Every couple of minutes someone drops by where you’re seated, and hands you a glass of either beer or the local rice whiskey, laolao. Again, not drinking is not an option. (Unless you are pregnant, sick or considered an senior citizen. If you’re a fit, big foreigner, saying no is not an option.)

Then, just at the moment you think that standing up or walking might be a bit awkward, the master of ceremony calls out to you and your ‘family’ and invites you to lead the next dance. This way, they show respect for the fact you took the trouble to show up and join in the most festive day of the newlyweds.

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As everybody is very poor, and all the booze and food costs a lot of money, it is expected of you to make a small contribution, by donating some cash to the couple. This money is stuffed under an elastic bracelet, so the couple ends up walking around with moneybracelets at the end of the day. The amount a certain family has contributed is shown by stacking up crates of beer on the dancefloor when you are called out to lead the dance.

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We were called out as the Saelao family, thanked by the parents of the bride, and expected to dance. The dancing is done in two concentric circles, the men dance in the inner circle and the women in the outer. The dance itself is mostly shuffling to the beat while twisting your hands and wrists in front of your belly. Devie danced with the father of the bride, while Jasper was passed around between a few Lao women. Sometime during the dance a snack was brought out, deep fried beetles! Luckily, this was one of the few times during the wedding when saying no was an option.

The ceremony itself started in the morning. Sadly, we misunderstood that and didn’t arrive till about noon, when the whole party got started. By one o’clock,’wasted’ is an euphemism for the state thst would describe most of the guests. This also means that by then everybody and their old mom will be trying to physically drag you onto the dancefloor, especially if they are lecherous old men and you are Devie. Again, saying no is not an option.

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Ever been force-fed alcohol? Go to a Lao wedding, at a certain moment the bride comes by and actually puts a half-full lemonade glass of laolao to your mouth, tilting it and your head back so you have to drink. Afterwards you must open your mouth to show you’ve swallowed your drink. And as soon as she’s gone, someone else shows up who repeats the process.

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We met a Lao woman who lives in Canada nowadays, who was visiting her relatives and helping keep up the Laolao tradition, by forcing people to have another shot of Laolao or two. She invited all of us to come for dinner at her house later in the week, but passed out and was carried off from the party before she could show us where it was that she was staying.

At about 5, when more guests were being carried away because they drank themselves into a stupor, we decided we’d call it a day and snuck out. Back home we collapsed on the couches and spent three hours recovering before we actually felt fit enough to go to bed.

If you got the impression that a lot of alcohol is involved in weddings here, you’re right… But it sure was a lot of fun!

Wedding invitation

Posted: January 14, 2012 in Laos
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Oops! Totally forgot the main reason we went to town today (Besides adding these posts, of course): We’re invited to a Lao wedding in the village this sunday, and had to get a decent attire not to stand out too much. As far as we’ve been able to figure out, we’re expected to show up noonish and then drink till dusk. First chance we have after the wedding we’ll be posting pictures and drinking stories.

Work at Saelao

Posted: January 14, 2012 in Laos
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This morning we woke up to mist covered mountains and soaked laundry, because there was an out -of -season downpour last night. Seeing the sun rise through the fog and the mist swirling around the mountains was gorgeous.

As it turns out we arrived here not only during the 4 day holiday we mentioned before, but also at the time the kids are prepping for their school exams. This means that after this wednesday, they will not be showing up for English lessons, as they will be studying for those exams, which means we’ll have our evenings free again. As we’re quite a way out of town,and the road isn’t one we’d like to use much after dark, we spend our free evenings hanging out at Saelao with the other volunteers.

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One of the more constructive projects we will be doing here is getting the electricity in the project set up, and that involved making an inventory of what is needed and what is possible. As mentioned before, the state of the grid is awful -it is so bad that if a fridge switches on, the whole village a km down the road sees its lights dim for a second. Sticking a volt meter in powersockets gives a surreal readout. Where one is accustomed to a steady 240V in Europe, you can see the voltage fluctuate between 205 and 215 here in a matter of seconds, while it is supposed to be 220V.

Getting the materials needed for the ‘leccy is quite the expedition too: this involved a ride into town on the back of a moped, 7km over the worst roads on the planet and then back with a load of cable, switches, fuses and such.

If you would like to know more about the Saelao project you van read about it here.